Touring the Baikonur Cosmodrome * Day IV

Posted by on Jun 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

Today’s schedule is less intense. We start with another walking tour of Baikonur city hunting for space monuments. Sergei Korolev, the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer during the 1950s and 1960s, smiles benevolently from high above a pink marble pedestal; an assortment of generals, academicians and chief designers cast in bronze look a lot less happy, as bronze takes the intense heat less well than marble (local weather was listed as unseasonably hot when I checked online, with punishing sun and +35 degrees as the norm); a huge statue of Gagarin reaches for the stars (if you don’t know who Gagarin was, you probably shouldn’t be reading this).

We find the local people of Baikonur to be friendly. A bunch of kids see us taking pictures of Gagarin, ask us to take pictures with them and then promptly sing the Kazakh national anthem for us at the request of an adult passing by; pretty cool stuff. The previous day a local shopkeeper at the market decides to personally show us the way to a place we couldn’t find when the group’s Russian skills proved ineffective.

More monuments follow, including a couple dedicated to people who died in rocket accidents on two separate occasions in the sixties (three years apart but on the exact same date, which is the reason no rockets are launched on that date anymore); some people show up and place flowers at one of the monuments which reminds everyone that a heavy toll was paid for the progress in spaceflight we see today.

In the evening we get to attend the press conference of the main and backup crews of the TMA-09M mission, another event I’m really looking forward to (the backup crew consists of a Japanese astronaut, a Russian and an American). The astronauts are in quarantine behind glass as no one wants them sick before lift off after dozens of years of training.

Once again it’s a slightly surreal event: to look at these nice people smiling and waving, and to know they will blast off into space in a couple of days is close to a real SciFi experience.

After the more technical or the usually cliched questions from the press (of the “What personal stuff will you take with you in orbit?” variety), a little boy gets to ask the Russian cosmonaut the most stereotypical question of them all: “Are you afraid to fly into space?“. “I’m not afraid to fly, I’m afraid of how interesting it’s gonna be there“, comes the answer.

Another walking tour and two more monuments later (yes, there’s plenty of them) I call it a day.

Keep reading about Baikonur: Day I | Day II | Day III | Day IV | Day V | Day VI